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Follow Me Down
The white walls closed in all around her as Emily crouched in the corner of the room, head held between her shaking hands, chin resting on her knees. The door was barred from the outside, and she couldn’t break free. The silence in the room was overwhelming, and everywhere there was white; white walls, white floors, the flowing white dress that she was wearing. She closed her eyes to escape the whiteness, a wave of comforting darkness sweeping over her. She began to hum a nostalgic tune, willing away the silence with all of her heart. She wished in the back of her mind that she could will away the loneliness too.
“Emily,” called a voice softly, as if it were only her imagination, “Emily.” Emily opened her eyes and stared at the man in front of her. He was tall and lanky, with pale skin and dark hair that just brushed his shoulders. He was clad in a bright red coat, long black pants, shiny black boots with silver buckles, and a smooth looking black top hat. He reminded Emily of the ringleaders in the pictures of the old circuses. He offered a white gloved hand to her, and she took it carefully, her own fingers shaking slightly in fear and anticipation. He bent down slowly, almost mechanically, like a wind up toy soldier and kissed the back of her hand.
“Don’t be afraid,” his voice was soft and rich and comforting, “I’m here to take you away from here. As long as you’ll just follow me.” She stared into his deep brown eyes and felt his hand still holding hers. He was real, he would save her. She nodded slowly, and he smiled. With a wave of his hand, the white room was torn open, and, as though looking through a tent flap, Emily could see a dark dirt path, and trees all around it.
“Shall we, my lady?” the Ringleader asked, and gestured for Emily to go ahead. Stepping out into the cool night air, Emily gazed behind her and waited for the Ringleader to follow. As he stepped out into the night air, he offered her a hand, and they walked together up the dirt path, the portal to the room sewing itself back up behind them.
“Look there,” he said, pointing up ahead of them towards the horizon. Emily followed his finger with her eyes and saw a red and white tent, glowing like a giant lantern against the dark backdrop of the night sky. She felt a smile tugging at her lips.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, looking up at the Ringleader for reassurance. He smiled down at her and they continued along the dirt road until they reached the tent. As they stood outside the lit up tent, Emily listened for any sounds coming from inside. She couldn’t hear a thing. She turned to the Ringleader, questioningly.
“Go on ahead of me,” he said quietly, affectionately, and pushed her forward towards the flap of the tent. Stumbling forward, Emily ran her fingers over the material of the tent. Then, carefully, she pushed it open.
As soon as she stepped inside, she was hit with light, and she felt the fabric of her dress shifting. Like an unwrapped gift, the white fabric gave way to rich, shining red satin, a dress that resembled a ballgown. She reached the edge of the stands and was handed a glittering red masquerade mask by the Ringleader. He took her hand in his again and led her to center stage. The stands were full of dark figures, faces hidden in the shadows.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” shouted the Ringleader, “let the show begin.” He bowed to them, just as mechanically as before, and led Emily off to the side. Seating Emily on a bale of hay, the two of them watched wind up clowns and acrobats, animals and fire breathers, weight lifters and contortionists perform for the screaming crowd. Then, the Ringleader stood again,offering Emily his hand.
“It’s time,” he said, a hint of crazed excitement showing on his pale face.
“For what?” Emily asked, her voice constricting in her throat.
“For you to take center stage,” he said. Leading her forward until they were in the center of the ring, he stopped, positioning her precisely before slowly moving away. She could feel the panic taking over, the faceless crowd staring down at her. She looked around at all of the looming figures. She panicked and screamed, but instead of a shrill, harsh sound, a lovely, melodious note rang out. Emily’s mouth dropped in shock. She decided to test it. Trying it again, another note rang out. Emily smiled and let her voice loose, what would have been screams became beautiful melodies. When she was through, the crowd went wild. She felt flushed with excitement and then a hand on her shoulder.
“Thank you one and all,” the Ringleader shouted, “good night.” Taking Emily’s hand again, he led her away from the center of the ring to a dark, backstage area.
“Now my dear,” said the Ringleader, sitting Emily down on a folding chair in front of a mirror lit up by lights, “now that you’ve had a taste of all we have to offer, you have a choice to make.” Emily stared into the mirror and saw the little white room, her form huddled in the corner. She attempted to back away from the mirror, but she couldn’t move.
“You can go back,” said the Ringleader, whispering in her ear, the whisper sending shivers up down her spine, “or you can stay here.”
“I’ll never go back,” said Emily, adamantly, “never.” The image in the mirror faded and disappeared, replaced by Emily’s own reflection and the Ringleader behind her grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“You picked correctly my dear,” he said. Before she could move, Emily felt a stabbing pain in her back. She let out a cry of distress and surprise, turning to look in the mirror. A brass wind up key protruded from her back, revolving slowly. She stared at it in horror as the Ringleader approached her.
“Welcome to the circus my dear,” he said, “you’ll never be alone again.” Emily nodded slowly, the horror still sinking in. She collapsed against the chair, her joints feeling stiff and heavy. The wind up key stopped spinning, and Emily felt her eyes drifting shut. She could hear a familiar melody being hummed, but she couldn’t quite pick it out in the darkness.